Tuesday, August 29, 2006

2006 House Ratings

2006 Rothenberg Political Report
House Ratings

Races are listed by likelihood of a party switch. For race-by-race analysis and explanation of the rankings, you must be a subscriber to the print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report. For a subscription form, click here. Ratings updated October 6, 2006. Republicans currently hold a 232-203 majority in the House. Democrats need to net 15 seats for a majority (218 seats). We are currently predicting a Democratic gain of 15-20 seats.

PURE TOSS-UP (11 R, 0 D)
CT 2 (Simmons, R)
FL 22 (Shaw, R)
KY 4 (Davis, R)
NM 1 (Wilson, R)
NC 11 (Taylor, R)
OH 1 (Chabot, R)
OH 15 (Pryce, R)
OH 18 (Open; Ney, R)
PA 6 (Gerlach, R)
PA 7 (Weldon, R)
VA 2 (Drake, R)
CT 4 (Shays, R)
CT 5 (Johnson, R)
FL 13 (Open; Harris, R)
IL 6 (Open; Hyde, R)
MN 6 (Open; Kennedy, R)
NV 3 (Porter, R)
NY 24 (Open; Boehlert, R)
NY 26 (Reynolds, R)
PA 8 (Fitzpatrick, R)
WI 8 (Open; Green, R)
FL 16 (Open; Foley, R)
IN 9 (Sodrel, R)
IA 1 (Open; Nussle, R)
PA 10 (Sherwood, R)
TX 22 (Open; DeLay, R)
AZ 5 (Hayworth, R)
CO 4 (Musgrave, R)
KY 3 (Northup, R)
NY 20 (Sweeney, R)
NY 29 (Kuhl, R)
WA 8 (Reichert, R)
TX 23 (Bonilla, R)
CO 7 (Open; Beauprez, R)
GA 8 (Marshall, D)
GA 12 (Barrow, D)
IL 8 (Bean, D)
IN 2 (Chocola, R)
IN 8 (Hostettler, R)
IA 3 (Boswell, D)

AZ 1 (Renzi, R)
CA 4 (Doolittle, R)
CA 11 (Pombo, R)
FL 9 (Open; Bilirakis, R)
IL 10 (Kirk, R)
NV 2 (Open; Gibbons, R)
NH 2 (Bass, R)
NJ 7 (Ferguson, R)
NY 3 (King, R)
NY 19 (Kelly, R)
NY 25 (Walsh, R)
OH 2 (Schmidt, R)
WY AL (Cubin, R)
AZ 8 (Open; Kolbe, R)
SC 5 (Spratt, D)
TX 17 (Edwards, D)
VT A-L (Open; Sanders, D)
WV 1 (Mollohan, D)

Monday, August 28, 2006

Candidates from Both Parties Shun Partisan Label

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Newsflash! President Bush is unpopular. No wonder Democrats across the country are dutifully attempting to tie every Republican candidate to their unpopular leader.

But most Republicans are under no illusions about the President's standing or mood of the electorate. They know voters are hostile. Instead of embracing the President and featuring themselves arm-in-arm with the commander in chief, GOP candidates are opting for the closed-door, closed-to-the-media fundraiser to take advantage of President Bush's fund raising abilities.

Republican candidates are also leery of using their party label in paid advertising. For example, you won't see or hear the word "Republican" in any ads by Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) in her Albuquerque-based 1st District. She faces a tough reelection fight in a district won by John Kerry 51%-48% in 2004.

Wilson is just one example of a host of endangered Republican incumbents spending hundreds of thousands of dollars stressing the word "Independence" in campaign commercials. But even House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (MO-7) and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (NY-26) make no mention of their party affiliation in recent television ads.

But Republicans aren't the only ones running from their party label.

Democratic operatives are quick to tout the so-called generic ballot, including a recent New York Times/CBS News poll that showed Democrats leading 47%-32% and a CNN poll, which had them up 52%-43%. But many Democratic candidates either lack faith in those numbers or lack faith in the popularity of their own party.

A content analysis of 42 television advertisements over the last month from Democratic congressional candidates shows little mention of their own party. Less than one-quarter (10) of the ads mentioned the affiliation of the candidate, and eight of those were by candidates running in Democratic primaries.

State Senator Ron Klein, who is running against Rep. Clay Shaw in Florida's 22nd District, is one of the two challengers to mention his party affiliation in a TV spot, and that's as part of a graphic at the end of his ad. Washington 5 challenger Peter Goldmark followed suit, but he went with only a tiny "D" instead of the whole word "Democrat."

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT), shunned by much of his own party, declared himself a "proud Democrat." But most Democratic congressional candidates can't say the same thing.

What about state Sen. Chris Murphy in Connecticut 5? No party affiliation. Kirsten Gillibrand in New York 20? Nope. Joe Donnelly in Indiana 2? Nada. Patricia Madrid in New Mexico 1? Try again. Phil Kellam in Virginia 2? Not a chance. I'm sure Peter Welch in a state like Vermont where John Kerry got 59% would embrace the party label in his paid TV advertising, right? Nope.

The concept of avoiding the Democratic label is striking in the wake of the Connecticut Senate primary, where grassroots Democrats on the ground and on the Internet clamored for a Democratic candidate proud of the party's ideals.

Matt Stoller of MyDD already noticed, and took exception to Washington 8 challenger Darcy Burner's bio spot that made no reference to her party.

Democratic candidates are quick to rail against President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress. But please don't call them Democrats. Call them "Not Republicans."

This item first appeared on Political Wire on August 24, 2006.

Friday, August 25, 2006

New Print Edition: House Outlook for 2006

The new August 25, 2006 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. (Click here for subscription information.)

House Outlook For 2006

By Stuart Rothenberg

Our latest race-by-race review of Congressional districts around the country convinces us that a Democratic wave is building and that the party is poised to take control of the House of Representatives in the fall. The only question now is the size of the November wave.

The national mood remains bleak for Republicans. President George W. Bush’s job performance ratings are terrible, and the public still gives Congress low marks. A majority of Americans continue to tell pollsters that the country is headed in the wrong direction.

That’s a recipe for a GOP disaster, and there is no reason to believe that things will change dramatically between now and Election Day to improve Republican prospects.

At the district level, voters are more critical of Republican incumbents – and supportive of even unknown Democratic candidates – than they usually are at this point in the election cycle. GOP candidates are running behind where they would be in anything approaching a “neutral” year. While some firming of the Republican base is likely over the next ten weeks, that alone may not be enough for the party to retain the House.

Strong fund raising by the DCCC should mean that some Democratic candidates won’t face the huge financial discrepancy that they have in the past, though RNC money should boost the Republican ground game nationally.

To hold the House, Republicans must retain at least a handful of districts that now appear likely to go Democratic, probably by discrediting Democratic challengers and open seat hopefuls. Unlike previous cycles, when the burden was on Democrats to create upsets, the onus is now on the GOP to save at least a handful of seats before Election Day.

Therefore, we are raising our estimate of likely Democratic gains from 8-12 seats to 15-20 seats, which would translate to between 218 and 223 seats – and a majority – in the next House.

For our full ratings and anaylsis of each competitive race...subscribe now.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pennsylvania Senate & Virginia Senate: New Numbers, Same Races

By Stuart Rothenberg

Well, there are new numbers out in both the Pennsylvania and Virginia Senate races, and to hear some of the spin, those races are starting to turn on their heads.

Here’s my advice: Don’t get carried away. The changes in both races are, so far, superficial. The fundamentals basically remain unchanged.

In Pennsylvania, Republicans (and some in the media) are all excited that Sen. Rick Santorum (R) has closed on his Democratic challenger, state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. Casey once held a double-digit lead, but two recent polls show that margin cut virtually in half.

An Aug. 8-13 Quinnipiac University survey showed Santorum trailing 48 percent to 42 percent among likely voters, while a Strategic Vision poll had the Democrat up 47 percent to 41 percent.
“Senate Race Tightens,” crowed the Strategic Vision release, while Quinnipiac’s release asserted, “Incumbent Has Gained Ground on Challenger.”

If you are a Pennsylvania (or national) Republican, any improvement in polling is reason for celebration. But the reality in the Keystone State is that Santorum’s prospects are not much better now than they were a month ago, even if Santorum has cut into Casey’s lead in the ballot test.

Quinnipiac showed Santorum’s job ratings as 42 percent approve/44 percent disapprove — a small improvement from his standing in Quinnipiac’s June poll and statistically identical to his standing in a May survey. In any case, those job numbers are mediocre at best for an incumbent seeking another six-year term.

The Strategic Vision survey is troubling not so much for its numbers as for its methodology. That poll asked the Senate ballot test as its 17th question — after a series of questions on the war in Iraq, terrorism and illegal immigration. It is accepted practice to place ballot tests early in a survey to avoid biasing respondents.

No matter what the new polls show, Santorum is an incumbent at 41 percent, even after airing a significant number of television ads statewide. While it’s always better to be ahead than behind — or behind by a few points rather than many — Santorum obviously has not yet changed the dynamics in the race: He remains a very weak incumbent who is seeking to overcome a challenger in a political environment that strongly favors Democrats.

The situation is reversed in Virginia, where Democrats are reading big news into slight evidence.
National Democrats sent out a press release hyping a News 7-Survey USA poll of the Virginia Senate race shortly after a controversy exploded in the contest between Sen. George Allen (R) and challenger Jim Webb (D).

Allen, identifying a Democratic campaign staffer who was following him around, used a word that may or may not have been inappropriate. In any case, the controversy became substantial, and Allen had more than a couple of days during which he received terrible press and generally looked inept and on the defensive.

An Aug. 17 Survey USA poll showed Allen’s job ratings as 47 percent approve/38 percent disapprove, which prompted Democratic operatives to issue a press release getting in a few shots at the Republican and asserting that Allen is suffering from the incident.

Well, Allen’s approval did dip from 51 percent to 47 percent, but his disapproval rating remained unchanged from earlier surveys. The new survey didn’t include any data suggesting that Allen would be measurably weaker against Webb in the fall or that large numbers of Allen voters were reassessing their opinion of the Senator.

Any quickie survey conducted in the middle of a controversy and media frenzy isn’t likely to provide the kind of information one needs to evaluate the race long term, and the Survey USA poll is no exception.

The controversy may hurt Allen in the fall campaign, or most voters may shrug it off as just another political skirmish in a campaign. The question is whether Allen voters will now desert the Republican to support Webb, an underfunded challenger who is having difficulty getting his message heard.

Of course, we won’t know that for a while, just like we won’t know for sure if Santorum’s movement is anything more than either the natural closing of a race or the result of Santorum media.

But the wise move in both Pennsylvania and Virginia, even after looking at the new poll numbers, is to believe that relatively little has changed. Casey and Allen remain the favorites and the frontrunners, and their opponents need to alter the fundamental dynamics in those races if they are to pull even between now and November.

This column first appeared on RollCall.com on August 22, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

2006 Senate Ratings

2006 Rothenberg Political Report
Senate Ratings

Races are listed by likelihood of a party switch. For race-by-race analysis and explanation of the rankings, you must be a subscriber to the print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report. For a subscription form, click here. Rankings updated September 29, 2006. Republicans currently hold a 55-45 advantage in the Senate. Democrats are currently looking at a gain of 3-5 seats in November.

Santorum (R-PA)
Burns, (R-MT)
TOSS-UP (3 R, 1 D)
Chafee (R-RI)
DeWine (R-OH)
Talent (R-MO)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Allen (R-VA)
TN Open (R-Frist)
MD Open (D-Sarbanes)

Kyl (R-AZ)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Nelson (D-NE)
Stabenow (D-MI)
MN Open (D-Dayton)
Ensign (R-NV)
Hatch (R-UT)
Hutchison (R-TX)
Lott (R-MS)
Lugar (R-IN)
Snowe (R-ME)
Thomas (R-WY)
Akaka (D-HI)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Byrd (D-WV)
Carper (D-DE)
Clinton (D-NY)
Conrad (D-ND)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Kennedy (D-MA)
Kohl (D-WI)
Lieberman (D-CT)
Nelson (D-FL)
VT Open (I-Jeffords)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Connecticut Senate: Can Joe Lieberman Really Win?

By Stuart Rothenberg

When Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman announced on primary night that he was going to run for reelection as an Independent, I was a little surprised. The closeness of the contest obviously encouraged supporters of the senator to think that he could win a three-way race, and the senator himself clearly was buoyed by the relative narrowness of his defeat.

Still, I knew some Democrats - friends of the senator - had encouraged him to pause for a moment before committing himself to an Independent candidacy, and I figured that Lieberman might well hold off on a full-scale announcement for a day or two, even if he ultimately chose to compete in the general election.

Lieberman says that he is in the race for good, and he sure sounds as if he isn't joking. He's putting together a new consulting team and has already aired a new TV spot explaining why he is running as an Independent against Democratic nominee Ned Lamont in the fall election.

Veteran campaign watchers expected that Lieberman's primary loss would make early polling that showed him holding a big lead in the general election largely irrelevant. A loss would shatter the inevitability of an eventual Lieberman victory and send some Democratic loyalists running over to the Lamont column.

Lamont's primary win surely boosted his prospects, but neutral observers have been too skeptical of Lieberman's ability to win in November. The first couple of post-primary polls show Lieberman running even or ahead of Lamont, and there is more than enough reason to believe that Lieberman has a realistic chance to win in November.

Lieberman isn't some crackpot Independent who has nothing better to do than run a three-month campaign. In fact, the Connecticut Democrat has all of the assets of other successful Independent candidates.

Most statewide Third Party and Independent candidates fail because they lack name identification, campaign funds, credibility and electability. Lieberman has all four.

Democratic strategists suggest that Lieberman will need about $8 million for the general election. He begins with about $2 million in the bank and the ability to raise millions more from past supporters. Veteran fundraisers express little doubt in the senator's ability to raise another $6 million for the race.

Lieberman's support from within the Jewish and pro-Israel communities remains extremely strong, even among liberal Democrats who would seem to agree with Lamont's liberal views.

Lieberman's narrow loss, combined with his showing in post-primary polling and his appeal among Republicans and the state's huge Independent vote, surely establish the senator as a credible candidate for reelection.

A huge 44 percent of Connecticut's registered voters are unaffiliated, and with a weak Republican nominee on the ballot, there is no reason to believe that Lieberman can't score well enough with both of those groups to overcome Lamont's advantage among Democratic voters.

Lieberman's problem isn't money, name identification or credibility. His position on the war and the perception that he has grown distant from the state obviously hurt him in the primary, and it is a mistake to assume that he won't lose some Independents and Republicans over those same concerns.

But the senator's campaign has been a big problem. It was terrible in the primary, and if it doesn't improve substantially, he probably can't win.

Lieberman has not yet picked his new consulting team, but he has already made a number of campaign staff changes. We'll all have to wait to see how the new team functions. [Editor's Note: Since this column was written, Lieberman hired media consultant Josh Isay of KnickerbockerSKD and pollster Neil Newhouse of Public Opinion Strategies.]

One thing that probably doesn't matter is the flurry of Congressional endorsements that Lamont received after the primary. Endorsements from Senators Chris Dodd, Chuck Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton didn't help Lieberman win his primary, and it's hard to see them as guaranteeing a Lamont victory in November.

Lieberman appears to have retained endorsements from Planned Parenthood, the Human Rights Campaign and the League of Conservation Voters. And some state, local and national officeholders who endorsed the Senator initially will continue to back him. But he won't win because of endorsements.

If Lieberman wins, it will be because he successfully taps voters' frustration with the polarization that so many observers and real people complain about. Voters say they like candidates who are independent and real. We will now have a chance to see whether they mean what they say.

But Lieberman may have one other asset: Lamont.

I don't know whether Lamont planned to surround himself on primary night with Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, but that live TV shot during the winner's acceptance speech surely could cost the Democratic nominee some support among Independents. And it certainly reminded Lieberman supporters why their preferred the Senator and needed to work to defeat Lamont.

It is true that Lieberman doesn't have one of the two major party lines on which to run in the fall. But Lowell Weicker didn't have one of those lines either when he won the Nutmeg State's governorship in 1990. Lieberman must run an inherently unconventional campaign if he has any chance of winning. And if he runs a good one, he certainly can win.

This column first appeard on RealClearPolitics on August 18, 2006.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Nevada Governor: Primary Results Good for GOP

By Nathan L. Gonzales

As expected, Rep. Jim Gibbons won the Republican gubernatorial nomination with 48% over state Sen. Bob Beers and Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt. State Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus won the Democratic primary convincingly, 53%-36%, over Henderson Mayor Jim Gibson. But her win makes a Democratic takeover in Nevada more difficult.

Titus had the backing of EMILY's List while Gibson was more conservative and generally-regarded as having the wider general election appeal. Now, Cong. Gibbons will surely be reaching out to the one-third of Democratic voters who chose the more conservative candidate in the primary.

An August Mason-Dixon poll for the Las Vegas Review Journal showed Gibbons with a 46%-35% lead over Titus in a general election match-up. That mirrored a May Research 2000 poll for the Reno Gazette-Journal showing Gibbons ahead of Titus 46%-36%.

The open seat gives Democrats an opportunity in a state with a constantly changing population, but Titus has some considerable ground to make-up. Move from Narrow Advantage to Clear Advantage GOP.

This item first appeared on Political Wire on August 16, 2006.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Looking for a Big Message From Tuesday? There Ain’t One

By Stuart Rothenberg

Once again we are all scrambling to find an explanation — a dramatic trend or some big conclusion that can make us all feel insightful — from Tuesday’s primary results. Well, there isn’t much of one, despite what you may have read or heard.

As everyone who has taken a course on methodology knows, there is a difference between a statistical relationship and a causal relationship.

If the New York Yankees win every day in September that it rains in Kansas City, there is a statistical relationship between the Yankees winning and rain in Kansas City. But there isn’t necessarily a causal relationship, though, of course, there could be. It all depends whether you can identify how rain in Kansas City causes the Yankees to win, why a Yankee victory would cause precipitation in western Missouri, or what outside force is causing both Yankee victories and rainfall in Kansas City.

Three distinct events occurred on Tuesday — incumbent primary losses in Georgia, Michigan and Connecticut — that led reporters and other observers to look for a factor responsible for all three outcomes.

Was there a single message on Tuesday about voter anger, dissatisfaction with the status quo and change? Let’s examine the races individually.

DeKalb County Commissioner Hank Johnson defeated Rep. Cynthia McKinney in Georgia’s 4th district Democratic primary. McKinney, of course, already had been defeated once before, by state court judge Denise Majette in the 2002 Democratic House primary.

McKinney has had another bizarre year, including an altercation with a member of the Capitol Police, and she increasingly has earned a reputation as a political bomb thrower. Majette’s 58 percent to 42 percent victory in the runoff four years ago was not very different from Johnson’s 59 percent to 41 percent runoff victory, suggesting that the kind of electorate that votes in the midterms isn’t to McKinney’s advantage.

Johnson was not a particularly strong candidate, raising only $170,000 through July 17, the date of his pre-primary report. Majette, by contrast, raised and spent close to $2 million in her primary challenge, most of it in the primary.

But while all this is interesting, it doesn’t suggest to me that McKinney fell because of some generalized voter dissatisfaction with incumbents or the status quo. She lost because voters didn’t like her antics. The race was a referendum on the incumbent and her style. It wasn’t about her longevity in office or her responsibility for the war in Iraq (which she opposes), President Bush’s proposal to overhaul Social Security (which she opposed) or gas prices.

The Michigan 7th district House race, where minister and former state Rep. Tim Walberg defeated Rep. Joe Schwarz in the GOP primary, also had little to do with generalized voter dissatisfaction with the status quo. It was not evidence of a broad anti-incumbent sentiment. Instead, it was a message about one incumbent, Schwarz, and one electorate, GOP primary voters in the district.

Schwarz, 68, is a moderate and an accidental Member of Congress. He won a six-way primary in 2004, largely because conservative voters divided their votes among other hopefuls.

Schwarz won with just under 28 percent of the vote two years ago, and he almost certainly would have lost that primary if the field had been smaller. He lost a previous bid for a GOP Congressional nomination in 1992 and was defeated in 2002, when he drew just 18 percent of the vote, in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

This year, the third-place finisher in the 2004 GOP primary, Walberg — who had drawn almost 18 percent of the 2004 primary vote — ran as Schwarz’s sole competition. Conservatives, including the Club for Growth, backed Walberg, and he defeated Schwarz, 53 percent to 47 percent. Ideology trumped incumbency, as it sometimes does.

Both the Georgia and Michigan races were about the incumbents, albeit in different ways. But the contests weren’t about incumbency in general, the public’s desire for change or the Yankees’ loss to the White Sox on Tuesday.

As for Connecticut, I believe there was an element of generic “time for a change” in the Senate primary, but only an element. The race primarily was about Sen. Joe Lieberman (D), his support for the war in Iraq and his partial embrace of the president.

Were it not for the war, Lieberman would have won renomination, no matter how sanctimonious he seemed to critics and no matter how much more focused he was on national, rather than state, matters.

I’m not totally dismissing a general “time for a change” message in that primary, since Lieberman hasn’t paid as much attention to the folks back home as he should have. Still, any general “change” message was only a small, small part of Lieberman’s problem.

Does this mean that I’m disputing the notion that voters are unhappy with the direction of the nation and the president’s performance? Obviously not, if you’ve been reading this column. I’ve repeatedly argued that the elections have been nationalized and that they will be about change. It’s just that two of the three elections last week had nothing to do with that mood, and the Connecticut Democratic primary was more about Iraq and Bush than about a throw-’em-out mindset this year.

To those who assume that three events on a single day automatically must be explained by something bigger than local considerations, I can respond only that it simply is chance that the Georgia runoff, and the Michigan and Connecticut primaries happened to be held on the same day. Sorry, that’s all it is.

So far, three sitting incumbents — two House Members and one Senator — have been defeated in primaries. Those House numbers are not at all out of sync with incumbent primary defeats in non-post-redistricting cycles over the past 60 years. Senate primary defeats are rarer, though the previous one, in New Hampshire in 2002, surely was not about anti-incumbency or dissatisfaction with the direction of the nation.

So my answer to all of the questions and response to all of the analysis is simple: There is a mood for change. Republican incumbents are more vulnerable than they would otherwise be because of it. But the results of last Tuesday have little to do with that. Last Tuesday, virtually all politics was local.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on August 14, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

2006 Governors Ratings

2006 Rothenberg Political Report
Governors Ratings

Races are listed by likelihood of a party switch. For race-by-race analysis and explanation of the ratings, you must be a subscriber to the print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report. For a subscription form, click here. Republicans currently hold a 28-22 advantage in governorships nationwide. Currently, Democrats are expected to gain between 5-7 governorships. Ratings updated September 29, 2006.


NY Open (R-Pataki)

OH Open (R-Taft)

Ehrlich (R-MD)
AR Open (R-Huckabee)
CO Open (R-Owens)
MA Open (R-Romney)
TOSS-UP (1 R, 3 D)
Pawlenty (R-MN)
Doyle (D-WI)
Granholm (D-MI)
IA Open (D-Vilsack)
Carcieri (R-RI)
AK Open (R-Murkowski)
NV Open (R-Guinn)
Baldacci (D-ME)
Kulongoski (D-OR)
Perdue (R-GA)
Riley (R-AL)
FL Open (R-Bush)
Blagojevich (D-IL)
Douglas (R-VT)
Heineman (R-NE)
Lingle (R-HI)
Perry (R-TX)
Rell (R-CT)
Rounds (R-SD)
Sanford (R-SC)
Schwarzenegger (R-CA)
ID Open (R-Risch)
Bredesen (D-TN)
Freudenthal (D-WY)
Henry (D-OK)
Lynch (D-NH)
Napolitano (D-AZ)
Rendell (D-PA)
Richardson (D-NM)
Sebelius (D-KS)

Friday, August 11, 2006

New Print Edition: 2006 Gubernatorial Outlook

The new August 11, 2006 print edition of the Rothenberg Political Report is on its way to subscribers. (Click here for subscription information.)

2006 Gubernatorial Outlook

While House and Senate Democrats garner the bulk of the national media attention, many of the best Democratic opportunities this cycle are in races for governor. Republicans start the cycle with a 28-22 advantage in governorships, but they are defending 22 of them while Democrats are defending only 14. In most election cycles, gubernatorial races are insulated from national trends, but this year is looking like a broader call for change up and down the ballot against the GOP. In 1994, Democrats lost the House, Senate, and ten governorships, falling from 29 to 19.

At this point, only a couple of sitting Republican governors appear in imminent danger, but open seats in New York, Ohio, Massachusetts, Arkansas, and Colorado are causing significant headaches for the GOP. In many states, Republicans have been in power for two terms or more and voers are leaning toward making a change. Democrats are defending a competitive open seat in Iowa and a trio of upper-Midwest governors, but the party could survive the cycle without losing even a single seat to the GOP column.

Competitive primaries in Florida, Massachusetts, and Nevada could affect the bottom line, but right now, Democrats seem poised to gain 5-7 governorships, up a bit from our earlier 4-6 target range.

For our full ratings, anaylsis of each race, and recent polling...subscribe now.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

New York 24: Upstate New York’s Open Seat Remains a Democratic Target

By Stuart Rothenberg

While most of the residents of Cooperstown, N.Y., have been more interested in the Hall of Fame induction ceremony and the summer weather, Otsego County political junkies have been captivated by the developing race to fill the seat of retiring Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R).

Boehlert, a moderate Republican and the chairman of the Science Committee, often drew conservative primary opposition throughout his career. But after he won renomination, he generally coasted to re-election.

With Boehlert out of the picture, Democrats are upbeat about their chances, citing a strong nominee and a favorable environment, including likely November landslides for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and gubernatorial hopeful Eliot Spitzer.

The 24th district is a Republican-leaning seat that includes all or part of 11 counties. The district, which roughly resembles the letter “j,” stretches from northern New York through Utica, down to just north of Binghamton and back north until it ends west of Syracuse.

President Bush carried the district by about 3,000 votes (1 percent) in 2000 and by a more substantial 17,000 votes (6 percent) in 2004. But despite that increase, almost everyone I talk to about this year’s Congressional race sees it as competitive.

What makes this contest so unusual is that both parties have exceptionally good candidates.

Republican Ray Meier, 53, served as city attorney in Rome, N.Y., before his election to the Oneida County Legislature. He served there for five years before being elected Oneida County executive. He held that office for another five years.

In 1996, Meier, a graduate of Syracuse University and Syracuse University College of Law, was elected to the New York state Senate, where he represents Oneida and two other counties not in the 24th district. He chairs the Social Services, Children and Families Committee.

Democrat Michael Arcuri, 47, is the Oneida County district attorney and has served in that office since he was first elected in 1993. A graduate of the State University of New York at Albany and New York Law School, Arcuri announced his candidacy for Congress a few weeks before Boehlert announced that he would not seek a 13th term.

Both men are poised and articulate. Each has a healthy respect for the other. Meier is confident, well-versed in government and politics, and seems a bit more mature. Even critics note Arcuri’s good looks and personable style.

Arcuri, who will run on the Democratic, Working Families and Independence party lines, presents himself as a moderate who is “similar to Boehlert.” Like the retiring Republican, he opposes Bush’s position on federal funding of stem-cell research, is pro-choice, favors increasing the minimum wage and opposes a ban on gay marriage. He says he differs from his party on issues such as a constitutional amendment on flag burning (he’s for it) and gun control (he opposes new restrictions).

Meier is a mainstream Republican, which puts him somewhat to Boehlert’s right. He’s more socially conservative than the outgoing Congressman or Arcuri — Meier favors research on adult stem cells but opposes research on embryonic stem cells — which should allow him to appeal to those conservatives who couldn’t stomach Boehlert. He is running on both the Republican and Conservative lines.

The question is whether Meier can hold all of the moderates who backed Boehlert. His asset in that quest is his personal style.

Arcuri has hired politically savvy Howard Wolfson to handle media, but for survey research he has retained Utica-based John Zogby, a controversial pollster who often is portrayed as nonpartisan but handles a few candidates from time to time.

Meier’s team is top-tier down the line, with Dave Sackett of the Tarrance Group doing polling, Paul Curcio of Stevens Reed Curcio and Potholm handling media and Dan Hazelwood doing mail. Even more important is that John Konkus, who has worked for Boehlert for years, has left the Congressman’s staff to manage Meier’s race.

Arcuri’s lack of a legislative voting record is likely to be an asset, since Meier may not have the ammunition he needs to define the Democrat as a liberal. Meier, in contrast, has a long political record that gives Arcuri something to shoot at. Of course, Arcuri’s record as district attorney could well be an issue if Republicans find a case or two they can use to discredit him.

Arcuri’s campaign has taken a few recent hits in local newspapers, which reported that he had received contributions from two businessmen under investigation by the FBI, including one who had spent more than two years in prison for mail fraud and conspiracy charges in California.

The Democrat’s campaign quickly returned the contributions, but took criticism for keeping two contributions from employees of the controversial businessmen. One of the employees, a paralegal, contributed $4,000 even though she had never met Arcuri. Late last week, those contributions were returned as well.

Democrats cite their gains at the local level and the public’s dissatisfaction with the direction of the nation in arguing that winds of change are blowing through the district. Republicans counter that Meier’s legislative and executive experience translates into an important advantage in the race. They say he has a far broader knowledge of issues and more experience talking about the various roles of government.

Arcuri needs to win Oneida County convincingly, since Meier is expected to hold the other more Republican areas of the district. But since Meier and Arcuri share Oneida as their base, the Democrat can’t assume he will carry the county.

If the national political environment were completely neutral, the GOP almost certainly would retain the seat. And Arcuri would have an almost impossible task against Boehlert, if he were seeking another term. But the open seat and the possible Democratic surge in the state and nationally make this a very competitive race. Meier still has an edge, so a Democratic win there definitely would mean GOP control of the House is in deep trouble.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on August 7, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Congress is Full of Former B-List Candidates

By Nathan L. Gonzales

According to Republicans, Democrats have a paltry list of B-List House challengers that will render them unable to take over the House. But let's face it, you don't always have to be a top tier candidate to get elected to Congress and there are dozens of members in office that prove the point.

"Rahm Emanuel deserves a dunce cap, not a crown, for the candidates he has found to run in these types of races," according to NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds at a July 28 briefing with reporters. Referring to the Democratic field of challengers, Reynolds added that he "had never seen a more unimpressive slate of candidates."

What grade would Reynolds have given former NRCC Chairman Bill Paxon (NY) with his slate of challengers in 1994 that included Mike Flanagan (IL-5), Fred Heineman (NC-4), Randy Tate (WA-9), Frank Cremeans (OH-6), and Steve Stockman (TX-9)? None of them were top-tier candidates by any means, yet all of them won. And all were promptly defeated two years later after only a single term in Congress.

Over the past few weeks, the NRCC has released a series of "B-List Blunders" press releases that highlight alleged missteps and quotes from Democratic challengers. The list rightfully includes Francine Busby, who lost the special election in California 50, in part, by failing to discourage illegal immigrants from participating in the election just days prior to the vote.

Busby is joined by Larry Kissell (NC-8), Patty Wetterling (MN-6), and John Yarmuth (KY-3) on the NRCC's list. None of them are particularly strong in their own right and will need considerable outside help getting elected to Congress.

But the list also contains some Democratic challengers like Lois Murphy in Pennsylvania's suburban 6th District and Brad Ellsworth in southern Indiana's 8 th District. Murphy and Ellsworth are top tier candidates and face two incumbents known for their vulnerability. And both Democrats are out-pacing their opponents in cash-on-hand through June.

Back in 1994, nine of the thirty-four successful GOP challengers outspent the Democratic incumbent. Through the second quarter, four Democratic challengers led GOP members of Congress in cash-on-hand. Overall, in 1994, the average successful Republican challenger spent 76% of the amount the Democratic incumbent used against them. Currently, the top 34 Democratic challengers in the country have, on average, 68% of the cash-on-hand of their GOP opponent.

Darcy Burner (WA-8) and Heath Shuler (NC-11) are two examples of candidates that the NRCC has chastised as "B-List", but who should be in good financial shape to take advantage of a cold November wave.

The NRCC's rhetoric and analysis fails to recognize that B-List, and even C-List candidates get elected to Congress, particularly in wave elections. And based on the number of top tier Democratic candidates and open seat opportunities, Democrats only need a half-dozen or so less than stellar challengers to win in order to take control of Congress. That's not an insurmountable task.

This item first appeared on Political Wire on August 7, 2006.

Monday, August 07, 2006

In Baseball, and America, Race Is Still a Topic for Discussion

By Stuart Rothenberg

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y.—Three days after President Bush signed a 25-year extension of the Voting Rights Act into law, the National Baseball Hall of Fame inducted a class of 17 players, managers and executives from black baseball.

The inductees included Cristóbal Torriente, a center fielder who played in Cuba and the Negro Leagues; Ray Brown of the Homestead Grays of the 1930s and ’40s; and Effa Manley, the co-owner of the Newark Eagles.

The same weekend, six of the 13 black major league pitchers to win 20 games — Jim “Mudcat” Grant, Al Downing, J.R. Richard, Mike Norris, Vida Blue and Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins — gathered in Cooperstown to promote “The Black Aces,” a new book by Grant, who won 20 games as a member of the 1965 Minnesota Twins.

The book relates the stories of the 13 pitchers — including the one active black 20-game winner, Dontrelle Willis of the Florida Marlins — as well as the stories of other great black ballplayers, focusing on the personal challenges, successes and difficulties that the athletes faced and, in some cases, continue to face.

Though the timing was coincidental, the three events — the Hall of Fame induction, the book’s launch and the presidential signing — seem, in retrospect, to be linked. Race has divided Major League Baseball, American society and American politics for decades, and it continues to be an issue with which many are wrestling.

Major League Baseball is trying to come to grips with its years of racial segregation, and many in Washington, D.C., continue to struggle with the racial divide that still shapes American politics.

Nationally, Republicans are promoting three serious black statewide candidates — Maryland Senate hopeful Michael Steele, Ohio gubernatorial hopeful Ken Blackwell and Pennsylvania gubernatorial hopeful Lynn Swann. In addition, pastor and former Detroit city councilman Keith Butler continues to run a vigorous campaign for the Senate from Michigan, though he is an underdog in the GOP’s Aug. 8 primary.

Strong black GOP candidates remain something of a novelty, and national Republican strategists are thrilled when they can find an appealing black to run for a high-profile office.

But none of this year’s high-profile black Republicans is favored to win, and so far, few black Republican candidates have made the kind of substantial gains among black voters that suggests the black electorate is even listening to Republican candidates. (There is some indication that younger black voters are more independent politically than their elders, but GOP candidates have not been able to take real advantage of that opportunity — if it is even a real opportunity.)

Black voters complain that Republicans don’t care about them and favor policies that won’t help them, but they won’t even support black Republican nominees.

On the Democratic side this year, Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (Tenn.) continues to mount his uphill campaign to move up to the Senate. The Congressman is a high-energy candidate who is making a major effort to woo voters in normally Republican eastern Tennessee. But if Republicans nominate former Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker in today’s primary, Ford would be a considerable general election underdog. Race is only one of Ford’s problems in the contest.

In Maryland, former Democratic Rep. Kweisi Mfume, the one-time head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, hopes he can overcome a substantial financial disadvantage to win his party’s Senate nomination. But he will be outspent heavily by Rep. Benjamin Cardin, the Democratic primary favorite, and by Josh Rales, a millionaire who is blanketing the state with ads that have both insiders and real voters scratching their heads.

Maryland blacks have not been happy with the state party’s establishment for its treatment of Mfume, and if, as most expect, Mfume is defeated in the Sept. 12 primary, they likely will complain loudly once again about being taken for granted. Then, they most likely will fall back in line and vote for Cardin against the black Republican Steele in November. (Steele may well improve his showing among black voters, but in a Democratic state in a Democratic year, he isn’t likely to beat Cardin in the general election.)

But in Tennessee’s 9th Congressional district, which Ford is leaving vacant to run for the Senate, something odd could happen today. Democrat Steve Cohen, a white, liberal state Senator, has a chance of winning the Democratic nomination in a district that is 59 percent black.

Cohen has run a series of TV ads emphasizing his accomplishments in office and testimonials from a number of prominent local African Americans. Cohen, who lost a Democratic Congressional primary to Ford in 1996, should benefit this time from the fact that he is a white candidate running in a race with a dozen or so black candidates.

If elected, Cohen would be the only white Member representing a majority-black district. (One white Member, Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Robert Brady, represents a black plurality district.)

Though Major League Baseball didn’t integrate until 1947, when Jackie Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers, baseball has changed more rapidly over the past five decades than has American politics has. That, too, may be changing before our eyes.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on August 3, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Connecticut Senate: What Happens After Lieberman Loses?

By Stuart Rothenberg

While Connecticut’s Democratic U.S. Senate primary is still a few days away, the writing now appears to be on the wall: Sen. Joe Lieberman is going to fall to challenger Ned Lamont in the Tuesday, August 8th primary.

Both public and, more importantly, private polls show the Senator headed for a defeat that could range from small to embarrassingly decisive. So, if Lieberman pulls out a victory, he’ll have to thank divine intervention.

If Lamont wins, Lieberman will have to think long and hard about whether he’ll run as an Independent in the general election (assuming, of course, that he has gathered enough valid signatures to pursue that option).

A resounding Lamont victory would make it very difficult for Democratic elected officials (and for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee) to stick with Lieberman in a three-way general election.

The primary result would create an entirely new dynamic in the race, undercutting Lieberman’s support for an Independent bid and putting pressure on him to exit the race gracefully. That doesn’t mean that the Senator couldn’t win a three-way race, only that early polls showing him with a commanding advantage in a three-way contest are meaningless.

Lamont’s general election numbers would immediately spike and Lieberman’s would drop, and the Senator’s prospects for victory in November would be uncertain.

Some Democrats fear that a three-way contest could encourage Republicans to find a way to force their nominee out of the race and replace him with a much more serious Senate candidate. But a Lamont victory would not seriously threaten the Democrats’ hold on that seat unless the Republicans were to find a stronger nominee.

Lamont’s victory, however, would not be without its downside for Democrats, since it would only embolden the crazies in the party, a consideration not lost on other Democratic elected officials and strategists.

Lieberman’s defeat is likely to add to the partisanship and bitterness that divides the country and Capitol Hill, and to generate more media attention to grassroots bomb-throwers who, down the road, are likely to make the party less appealing to swing voters and moderates.

This item first appeared on Political Wire on August 3, 2006.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Pennsylvania 6: Challenger Murphy Leads in New Poll

A new poll for Democratic challenger Lois Murphy shows her leading GOP Cong. Jim Gerlach 42%-41%. While this is a statistical dead-heat, the results are significant given the President’s standing in the district and Gerlach’s far weaker position now than he was in his last race.

According to the July 27-29 Garin-Hart-Yang survey, district voters disapprove of the job President Bush is doing by a 2-1 margin. In comparison, Gerlach’s job approval stood at a weak 37% positive/46% negative. The congressman’s job rating in September of 2004, when Murphy faced Gerlach the first time, was a much stronger 45% positive and 30% negative.

Gerlach has little room for error in this race, since he defeated Murphy by a slim 51%-49%, a margin of about 6,371 votes, last cycle. Now, both Gov. Ed Rendell (D) and Senate nominee Bob Casey Jr. (D) are running strong at the top of the ticket in the district and should boost overall Democratic performance.

The race should be close to the end, but Murphy leads in cash-on-hand through June 30 and is well-positioned to move this suburban Philadelphia seat into the Democratic column.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Maryland Senate: L’Affaire Steele- Apparently, Honesty Isn’t the Best Policy

By Stuart Rothenberg

So now we know. The clues, actually, made this case easy to solve. It didn’t take forensics or truth serum or even a lie detector. No, it wasn’t Col. Mustard in the conservatory with the rope or Professor Plum in the hall with the candlestick.

It was Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R). In the restaurant. With his mouth.

I first heard about the crime when I was in my car, driving to work, listening to a country music station. The woman reading the news informed me that Steele had told a group of political reporters, well, the truth.

Being a Republican is a problem in Maryland, Steele confided. And George W. Bush isn’t very popular in the state, said the Senate hopeful, so he wouldn’t want to be linked too closely in voters’ minds with the president.

I almost drove off the road. What! “He must be crazy,” I screamed to the driver in the car next to me on the George Washington Memorial Parkway (who, incidentally, was shaving). The truth! “What the hell is he doing?”

Sure, it was off the record. But why should that matter? An off-the-record conversation with one reporter is merely an opportunity for another reporter to ferret out the source and name names.

Naturally, the crime was all over the papers. Reporters mocked him. Democrats attacked Steele for being hypocritical. (Other politicians are never hypocritical, of course.)

Since the comments came from the candidate himself, Steele can’t fire the culprit. He can’t say he was misquoted, since he wasn’t. Ultimately, he may have to drop out of the race. After all, we can’t have political candidates going around telling the truth. Heck, if Steele isn’t punished, other candidates — other politicians — might start to tell the truth, and then where would we all be?

So what do I really think? I think the whole flap — the anonymous comments, the campaign’s acknowledgement that it was Steele who made them, The Washington Post stories and columns about the lunch, the comments by state and national Democrats — is a waste of oxygen.

We all know that what Steele said was true. So what makes it news? Some people will say it is news because he said it. Well, I don’t believe that. It’s become news only because it’s outside the media’s predetermined narrative on the race, and because many journalists love to embarrass politicians, or at least those politicians that they aren’t chummy with.

Plenty of Republicans have told me similar things off the record over the past year. Steele’s comments were news only because a columnist decided to make a big deal about it and because other journalists, talking heads and campaign spin doctors (from both parties, apparently) made it a federal offense.

I spend almost every day trying to get consultants, candidates, officeholders and staff to tell me the truth rather than the propaganda that many of them offer. I, for one, am happy to hear a politician offer an honest and accurate assessment of politics. The last thing I want is for them to clam up.

As for Democrats trying to make hay from Steele’s hypocrisy, I suppose it’s inevitable. That’s the way the game is played: Attack him if he supports Bush. Attack him if he criticizes Bush. Attack him if he doesn’t mention Bush. You can be sure that Republicans would do the same thing if the shoe were on the other foot.

Of course, Democrats also are being hypocritical in this case. I’ve heard Democratic Members of Congress say pretty much the same kinds of things over the past 25 years that Steele said.

I’ve heard them criticize Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) and other high-profile Democrats. Democrats running in Republican states and districts in 1992, 2000 and 2004 told me their party label was a problem and that they didn’t want to be associated with their party’s presidential nominee, whether that nominee was Bill Clinton, Al Gore or John Kerry.

And I’m not the only one who has heard it. Every political reporter, columnist and analyst has talked with candidates, consultants and staffers who have acknowledged the obvious.

Just recently, I heard a Member of Congress — a Democrat — make off-the-record comments that were critical of his or her (pick one; I’m not narrowing it down for you) own party. I found the remarks useful, but they were off the record, and I have no desire to embarrass the Member.

Recently, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters at the National Press Club that if he were running this year, he wouldn’t “embrace the president and his agenda.” That, too, drew coverage from the media. Well, Thune and Steele simply were saying the obvious.

Tactically, Steele made a mistake when he backtracked after the story broke. But more than that, he had no reason to sit down with national reporters, some of whom obviously were hostile and looking to embarrass him. I suspect it was vanity that led him to do it. And that vanity, and mistake, has generated the kind of publicity he didn’t need.

This column first appeared in Roll Call on July 31, 2006. Copyright 2006 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.